Virginia has a history of parties requiring primary voters to affirm they’re loyal Democrats or Republicans. However, three African-American pastors who are Donald Trump supporters filed a lawsuit claiming the pledge required by the state GOP—“My signature below indicates I am a Republican”—will discourage minorities and the poor from voting in the March 1 primary.
Just ahead of absentee ballots going out, federal Judge Heather Lauck refused to issue a preliminary injunction January 14 to halt the pledge, a requirement Trump has loudly lambasted.
On December 27, he tweeted, “It begins, Republican Party of Virginia, controlled by the RNC, is working hard to disallow independent, unaffiliated and new voters. BAD!”
“If someone refuses to sign the Republican affirmation, they can’t vote in the Republican primary,” says Charlottesville Electoral Board member Rick Sincere.
State code allows parties to use pledges, says Sincere, and both Democrats and Republicans have used them in the past.
At the polls on primary day, voters will be asked in which primary they want to vote, says Sincere. Once a voter has asked for a Republican ballot, “it’s a matter of public record,” he says.
Because Virginia has an open primary, there’s nothing to keep members of one party voting in another’s primary, says Geoffrey Skelley with UVA’s Center for Politics. In 2000, the state GOP “had a pledge for voters to sign promising to not participate in the nominating process of another party in the hopes of discouraging such behavior,” he says.
Reaction among city Republicans has been divided, according to Barbara Null, chair of the Republican Party of Charlottesville and co-chair for the Ted Cruz campaign in the 5th District. “This whole thing could be avoided if we registered by party in Virginia.”
“It’s not an oath,” says Albemarle County Republican Committee Chair Cindi Burket. “It’s an affirmation that people voting in the Republican primary are Republicans.” She says she’s telling party members it won’t inhibit their right to vote.
Bedford developer Jim McKelvey, who is the 5th District co-chair for the Trump campaign and a candidate for the congressional seat, is not a pledge supporter. “I simply think [the Republican Party of Virginia] is attempting to manipulate the system against a couple of candidates they don’t want,” he says. “I think we’ve got a couple of candidates that scare them to death.”
It’s tough to say whether the pledge will have any outcome on the primary in Virginia, says Skelley. “My understanding is that the pledge is not legally binding, so there’s little to stop someone who doesn’t consider herself a Republican from signing it and voting anyway,” he says. “However, it could dissuade some people from voting because they don’t want to sign something that might be viewed as a lie.”